Pledging Our Lives

March 19, 2017

I can’t remember when I first came across the Shakertown Pledge. It was written on April 30, 1973, as  a response to the inequality of distribution of global wealth and resources.  The Pledge goes like this:

Recognizing that Earth and the fullness thereof is a gift from our gracious God, and that we are called to cherish, nurture, and provide loving stewardship for Earth’s resources, and recognizing that life itself is a gift, and a call to responsibility, joy, and celebration, I make the following declarations:

  1. I declare myself a world citizen.
  2. I commit myself to lead an ecologically sound life.
  3. I commit myself to lead a life of creative simplicity and to share my personal wealth with the world’s poor.
  4. I commit myself to join with others in the reshaping of institutions in order to bring about a more just global society in which all people have full access to the needed resources for their physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual growth.
  5. I commit myself to occupational accountability, and so doing I will seek to avoid the creation of products which cause harm to others.
  6. I affirm the gift of my body and commit myself to its proper nourishment and physical wellbeing.
  7. I commit myself to examine continually my relations with others and to attempt to relate honestly, morally, and lovingly to those around me.
  8. I commit myself to personal renewal through prayer, meditation, and study.
  9. I commit myself to responsible participation in a community of faith.

Could you promise those things?  Could you live by them?  Let me read the commitments to you once more.

Adam Finnerty, one of the authors of the pledge, wrote in the June-July 74 edition of Sojourners magazine: “We believe that all people of faith should consider this pledge. We have taken it not just because it is the right thing to do, and not just out of enlightened self-interest, but because of our deep, religious conviction. We know from the scriptures that God commands God’s people to make the cause of the poor and the oppressed their own. If we are truly to practice our faith, then we cannot sit idly by while others starve. It’s as simple as that.”

The call to live simply and gratefully ourselves, and to do justice in the world as mentioned in this Pledge  are central to our identity as United Church people.  One of the ways we live out our commitment to the faith as members of the United Church of Canada is through our Mission and Service Fund.

As much as we might want to be able to respond personally to each crisis or event that reaches our consciousness, we know we can’t.  Yet we know God wants us to care for our neighbor, and in a world like ours, with instant global communications, and a global marketplace, our neighbor could be anywhere from Esquimalt to Ecuador!  There are all kinds of organizations out there that do good work, using the financial resources we share, our know-how, our time, to improve conditions for those who need help.

Unlike some organizations, the Mission and Service Fund  works on the ground with local people.  It is the local people who decide what is most needed, what outside expertise or resources might be required, and what projects have priority.  We don’t parachute people in with an agenda; we work hand in hand with our mission partners to ensure the best use of the resources shared by our donors both here in Canada and overseas.    Here are a few stories to add to our collective witness – a few more stories to share about what it means to be a Christian in a global family.

Reconciliation in Canada – Martin (1st reading after Heidi’s intro)

In December 2015 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission made public its final report tothe Canadian people. This marked the end of the commission’s mandate and the beginning of the next stage of our path for reconciliation as a church and as a society.

In 1883, Sir John A. Macdonald’s government intentionally built residential schools far away from families and communities as a way to assimilate Indigenous children into mainstream Christian society and “do away with the Indian problem.” The residential school experience is one of the darkest and most troubling chapters in our collective history.

The Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair (Manitoba’s first Indigenous judge), the chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said that from the first story they heard: “We understood from that moment, very deeply, not only the significance of what we were doing but the sacredness of it.” “It is the survivors’ telling of their stolen childhoods that has shaken us all awake,” says Marie Wilson, a member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission who spoke at the United Church’s 42nd General Council. She urged those assembled to always feel outrage at injustice, to hope for what is possible, and to respect that every life has the potential to make a difference. Love, she said, “has the power to transform a life, a relationship, a church, a country.”

Our gifts to Mission & Service support Indigenous ministries and the work of healing and reconciliation. Here are a few examples of the work being done.

Week-long camps called Wampum and Neechi are held for Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth at several locations across the church. At these church-led, reconciliation-themed youth events, youth learn about the history and damage of residential schools, as well as Indigenous history and cultural values.

Toronto Urban Native Ministry offers pastoral and practical support to Indigenous people living in that city. It is estimated that approximately 80,000 Indigenous people live in the Toronto area. Life in the city can be exceedingly difficult because of racism, isolation, and poverty.

The Haida language is threatened. Only 16 fluent speakers aged 75–85 are left. Ten Elders teach at the Skidegate (Skid-i-git) Haida Immersion Program in British Columbia. They teach new learners and record and document the language with community support.

The Sandy-Saulteaux (Soh-to) Spiritual Centre is an Indigenous theological and ministry training program of The United Church of Canada that prepares Indigenous people for lay and ordered ministry. This theological school affirms a style of leadership appropriate to Indigenous culture and Indigenous church experience, and develops and tests curricula and models to uphold this style of learning. The centre also provides cross-cultural and spiritual awareness programs to the non-Indigenous community that contributes to reconciliation.

The light is spreading, in the name of Jesus Christ.

Children in the Middle East – Glenys (2nd reading after Martin)

Headlines were made in the last week when UNICEF reported about the situation of children in the Syrian Civil War: At least 652 children were killed – a 20 per cent increase from 2015 – making 2016 the worst year for Syria’s children since the formal verification of child casualties began in 2014.  255 children were killed in or near a school.  More than 850 children were recruited to fight in the conflict, more than double the number recruited in 2015. Children are being used and recruited to fight directly on the frontlines and are increasingly taking part in combat roles, including in extreme cases as executioners, suicide bombers or prison guards. (www.unicef.org)

Never mind nearly-forgotten places like Cameroon, the Ukraine or Afghanistan where children’s needs are going unmet.  In 48 countries children are under direct attack ,and there are an estimated 68 million children worldwide who are on the move because it is unsafe to stay where they were living. In both the well-known and the forgotten situations, the United Church is there.

Mission and Service funds on-going work with refugees in the Middle East, in addition to having already collected and distributed over $ 1 million in emergency funds.  One example is in Lebanon, where Mission & Service partner the Joint Christian Committee (JCC) has stepped in to ensure Syrian children and youth are able to continue their education. JCC teachers, many of whom are refugees themselves, teach classes in Arabic, since many Syrian students are unable to attend schools in Lebanon (where the languages of instruction are English and French).

In order to get their high school diplomas, Syrian teenagers must write their final exams in Syria. JCC staff regularly escort busloads of teenagers across the Lebanese border into war-torn Syria to write their final exams. “Education is a light that gets rid of ignorance,” says JCC’s Mahmoud Manaa. “We believe in development, humanity, love, and peace—and we can’t build that without knowledge.”

Many of these students hope to use their education to help Syria recover from its devastation. “I dream of being an engineer, so one day I can go back to my country to rebuild as much as I can,” says Syrian high-school student Natalie. (www.united-church.ca)

The light is spreading, in the name of Jesus Christ.

Refugees in Toronto – Jeannette – 3rd reading, after Glenys

Our gifts also support the Montreal City Mission, which offers refugee resettlement and

support programs. In 1910 a British Methodist pastor named Bowman Tucker founded

Montreal City Mission to welcome and provide services for immigrants arriving from Europe.  Over a century later that spirit of hospitality is still thriving.

 

Refugees receive support through the Montreal City Mission Just Solutions Clinic, which

provides free legal information and assistance, rights advocacy, and accompaniment to

vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals in the area of refugee and immigration law. Montreal City Mission has two social work students supporting Syrian refugees of all ages, including in its summer day camp, Camp Cosmos.

 

Since 1985 the Anglican United Refugee Alliance has been working with churches in

southern Ontario to provide hope and refugee resettlement. They are working in this historic moment to facilitate record levels of sponsorship of refugees from Syria and other parts of the world. (Did you know that United Church congregations contributed over$ 8 million  in their local communities to support refugees?  That’s astounding!)   And it is the Mission and Service fund that pays the staff in the Church Mission Unit that have helped hundreds of congregations through the sponsorship process.   When I hear figures like that, I am so grateful to be a part of a church that understands that the whole world is our neighbour, and that when one grieves, we grieve together, and when one celebrates, we celebrate together.

 

The light is spreading, in the name of Jesus Christ.

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Jesus told us we are to be a light in the world—to draw out the God-colours of this world for  all to see. Our congregation raised $15,464 last year for national and global ministry, and through those funds, the light is shining.   Our gifts enable ministries

that make the difficult journey many people are on, that much lighter. Our gifts reveal God’s love and enable Indigenous ministries, healing, and reconciliation work; our gifts enable refugee ministries; our gifts support education and action for human rights. By continually supporting our Mission &Service we turn Christ’s light into a beacon of hope for others.

 

I invite you to think about that pledge, the Shakertown pledge, and to reflect on the ways you are living according to the faith we share.  Mission and Service is one way; the ministry we participate in within these church walls is another; how else might we live out our lives as disciples of Jesus?  Something to reflect on in the coming week.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

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